• 59°

City hosts Affordable Housing summit

The City of Oxford hosted an affordable housing summit Thursday night to discuss possible solutions and generate community involvement for Oxford’s housing issues.

More than 50 residents were in attendance, ready to learn about the effects of the lack of affordable housing in the LOU community as well as join various committees to discuss various problems that inhibit the development of affordable housing.

“These problems we’re talking about affect every one of our residents – the people who work here, live here, go to college here – and there’s no quick or easy solution to these longstanding and increasing issues that we have with availability of affordable housing,” Mayor Robyn Tannehill said. “But that doesn’t mean we need to do nothing. We’re here to come up with creative solutions to this problem.”

The summit began with a lecture from Jeff Staudinger, an expert on affordable housing policy and strategy who most recently served as Assistant Director of the Community and Economic Development Department in Asheville, N.C. and now travels across the country doing consulting work for municipalities like Oxford.

Staudinger presented statistics to the crowd, and explained how Oxford and Lafayette County’s housing issues compared to the rest of the nation. For example, Staudinger said, approximately 60 percent of all renter households in the LOU community are cost burdened, meaning tenants are spending more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing costs.

It’s an issue that’s not limited to one economic class over another, he said.

“A lot of times, when people think of affordable housing, they think only about people who are on public assistance,” Staudinger said. “It’s the workforce who needs housing. What keeps our economy healthy is people having a place to live that’s close to where they work and where their kids go to school and where they get the services and goods they need.”

Specific issues Staudinger addressed included the predominance of primarily student housing in Oxford, a high percentage of empty units (due to second home ownership and short term rentals), an increasing number of low-income households and a low number of units to accommodate them.

Staudinger also presented several solutions to affordable housing woes that the LOU community can implement over time, ranging from land trusts to incentive programs for developers to rooftop leasebacks of solar panels.

Lifelong Lafayette County resident Betsy Malone said she looked forward to creating a path for public discourse to analyze the affordable housing crisis, especially when it concerns children and families.

“I’ve worked for Oxford School District and daycares here before, and I’ve seen so many children who are learning and doing good, but their parents can’t afford housing and they have to uproot them,” Malone said. “Affordable housing is a crisis and a need, because so many people are relocating, even moving away from their families.”

Following the lecture, residents divided into topical study committees based on their interests: cost-burdened households, severely cost-burdened households, mixed issues, earning below area Annual Mean Income and data and research.

Committee members must be able to attend one meeting a month for six months.

A full video recording of the summit and more information is available at http://www.oxfordms.net.